Music review: Scottish Chamber Orchestra and Pekka Kuusisto, Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh

Violinist Pekko Kuusisto has a huge musical personality
Violinist Pekko Kuusisto has a huge musical personality
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That this was the Scottish Chamber Orchestra’s first season concert featuring London-born, Edinburgh-educated, New York-based Anna Clyne as associate composer almost overshadowed the fact that it was the remarkable Finnish violinist/conductor Pekka Kuusisto’s second as featured artist. No concert featuring Kuusisto can fail to convey his huge musical personality, though, and with the SCO it was there in abundance. His opening Beethoven Creatures of Prometheus Overture was rugged and gutsy, directed with vigour from the violin, and he injected a similar vigour and vim into Mozart’s lightweight but charming K136 Divertimento. To close, his Haydn “Il distratto” Symphony was simply superb – brisk, biting, boldly characterised, and with its copious musical jokes (a sudden spate of tuning up, or violins seeming to forget why they were there) played deliciously straight, and as a result genuinely funny.

Scottish Chamber Orchestra and Pekka Kuusisto, Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh ****

“Il distratto” provided the inspiration for Clyne’s new work, Sound and Fury, along with Shakespeare’s Macbeth – an odd juxtaposition of sources, perhaps, and one reflected in a strangely mixed piece, even if it was faultlessly fluent and elegantly crafted. Clyne knows how to spin a musical argument, and how to lead the listening through her restlessly changing textures, though including a recording of Ian McKellen reading Macbeth’s famous “Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow” soliloquy was less convincing: Clyne’s music seemed simply too lively and jolly for the emptiness and desolation of the words. Her two-violin concerto Prince of Clouds made a big impact, however, with Kuusisto and SCO leader Benjamin Marquise Gilmore superbly matched in its austere, Pärt-like ruminations.

DAVID KETTLE